Top 10 museums in London
Looking for your fix of culture but haven't a clue where to start? Here's ten museums you must visit straight away
Overwhelmed by the number of museums in London? Let Time Out point you in the direction of the capital's finest museums and galleries, and the exhibitions and events they have to offer. Most of these vast permanent collections are free to enter, so you can explore London's museum marvels without flashing the cash.
Check out London's must-see museums
One of the world's oldest museums, the British Museum is vast and its collections, only a fraction of which can be on public display at any time, comprise millions of objects. First-time visitors generally head for the mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.
- 44 Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
The V&A houses one of the world's greatest collections of decorative arts, in such varied fields as ceramics, sculpture, portrait miniatures and photography. Among the highlights are the British Galleries 1500-1900, which are arranged chronologically to trace the history of British design from the reign of Henry VIII to that of Queen Victoria.
- Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
Founded in 1824 to display a collection of just 36 paintings, today the National Gallery is home to more than 2,000 works. There are masterpieces from virtually every European school of art. The modern Sainsbury Wing extension contains the gallery’s earliest works: Italian paintings by early masters like Giotto and Piero della Francesca.
- Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
This powerhouse of modern art is awe-inspiring even before you enter, thanks to its industrial architecture. Inside, the original cavernous turbine hall is used to jaw-dropping effect as the home of large-scale, temporary installations. The permanent collection features heavy-hitters such as Matisse, Rothko, Bacon, Twombly and Beuys.
- Bankside, SE1 9TG
The handsome Alfred Waterhouse building houses a collection that contains some 70 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. The Natural History Museum’s Life Galleries are devoted to displays on animal life, from creepy crawlies to the plaster cast of a Diplodocus that lords it over the Central Hall.
- Cromwell Rd, SW7 5BD
The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology. The Medical History Gallery in the museum's attic contains a substantial collection of medical history treasures.
- Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
On this Greenwich Park site you'll find the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House and the Royal Observatory, founded in 1675 by Charles II. The museum's Maritime London gallery is a permanent exhibition exploring the importance of London's maritime heritage and its impact on world trade. Exhibits include wreckage from a Zeppelin shot down over the Thames estuary in 1916 and the original model for Nelson's Column.
- Romney Rd, SE10 9NF
Opened in 1989 (following its original incarnation as the Boilerhouse established in the V&A by Terence Conran), the Design Museum by Tower Bridge encompasses modern and contemporary industrial and fashion design, graphics, architecture and multimedia.
- 28 Butlers Wharf, Shad Thames, SE1 2YD
Among the vehicles on display at the London Transport Museum is the first underground electric train, which had no windows because there was nothing to see underground. The trouble was that no one could tell which stop they were at, a glitch resolved by employing an athletic announcer who ran to each carriage at every station, shouting out the stops. Dating from 1890, this is one of several museum exhibits you can board.
- Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
Located in the stately 1815 building that once housed the Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane (aka Bedlam), IWM London holds an important collection of twentieth-century art, much of it officially commissioned during WWI and WWII, examples of the machinery of war, official communications, manuscripts of war literature and other, more personal artefacts from the conflicts of the twentieth century.
- Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ
Write your own review
Check out the most weird and wonderful pieces that London's museums have to offer
Culture needn't cost the earth, check out our pick of London's top cost-free museums
Prefer to strain your brain after dark? Try one of these great museum lates